The Vinton Eagle
January 15, 1859
About Vinton and Benton County
Under the head of “Gleanings from the Note-Book of the Itinerating Editor,” we find in the Dubuque Times, of Jan. 6th, the following letter concerning our town and county, furnished that by its talented editor, Jesse Clement, Esq., who has been roving through the interior of the State for some weeks past. Our modesty prompts us to omit the paragraph having direct reference to ourselves.
Vinton, Dec. 17th.
Left Cedar Rapids this morning for Vinton, a distance of twenty-five miles. On this route we came once more in range of the Western Stage Company, whose line we patronize in preference to any other, because, thus far in our experience in Iowa traveling, it is the best. Mr. Joseph Sharpe carries the mail on this route, and takes passengers when he can find them stupid enough to ride on his forbidding sleds and carts. Last week we were obligated to go from Sand Spring to Anamosa on one of his sleds---a Western patriarch of this family of vehicles. We had cold mail bags for a seat; nothing but Ursa Major to lean our backs against, and paid our dollar and a half for the twenty miles ride on this covered carriage---covered by the blue concave through which comets have recently, and from time immemorial, been punching holes. When Mr. Sharpe runs coaches or sleds, or even carts, embracing any of the elements of comfort and charges any price below robbers’ rates, we may patronize him---when nothing better can be done.
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We find Vinton, the shire-town of Benton County, most delightfully located on the south side of the Cedar River. It has broad streets, very wide, running at right angles, and some of them as level as the house floor. It was first settled in 1851. Among the pioneers were C. C. Charles, John S. Tilford, and Dr. J. C. Traer. The last two are still living here. Mr. Tilford has a nursery of ten or twenty thousand apple trees, most of which will be ready for transplanting next spring. His, we believe, is the only nursery in the county, and it will do very much towards supplying this section with fruit. In a very few years, we presume, Benton county will produce all the apples needed here.
Mr. Traer is a banker, and the local commissioner of the Blind Asylum, which is located here, and the site of which we have visited. It is half a mile from the village, on high ground, overlooking a wide extent of country. They embrace forty acres, generously donated by Mr. J. W. O. Webb, and worth forty dollars per acre. The walls of the building, which fronts the east, are already up. The whole length of the building will be 220 feet; the height from the basement to the top of the dome, 115 feet, its depth 70 feet. The center or main building---the part designated to be completed at first---is 108 feet long, and its height four stories above the basement. The outside walls are to have a front of dressed stone, the work being crandled, with beveled joints, and will have a very neat and rich appearance. The rear wall and ends are to be of hammer-dressed stone.---The building stands on a plot of 12 acres, twenty rods in front. The remainder of the land is reserved for gardens, orchards, etc. The cost of the center building---now rising---will be about forty thousand dollars. It is to be heated by steam, and lighted with gas. Everything about it is most commodiously arranged. Dr. Traer visited the asylums of several States in order to get the best plan.---His efforts are untiring, and Iowa will ere long have a model Asylum for the Blind.
The stone used in the building is limestone, and is brought from a quarry three miles above the village, and directly on the south bank of the Cedar. In company with Dr. Traer we have visited the spot, and find as good a quarry of the kind as we have seen in these parts. The stone is of a very light gray color, and makes a richer front, in our estimation, than marble. The bank in which the quarry is found, is fifty feet high, and stretches for half a mile along the shore. The stone is very easy of transportation by water, and at this time by land, the sledding from that point to the site of the Asylum being good. There is, doubtless, stone enough in the quarry to build the Pompeii of the West. The nature of the stone may be gathered from the fact that a cute Yankee picked up one of our specimens at the Shields House, and with his jack-knife made a handsome pipe of it in less than an hour. The pipe we have in our possession, and having no other use for such a domestic utensil, we shall, on our return to Dubuque, keep it on exhibition in our editorial sanctum---admittance one cent---children half price.
The population of Vinton is eleven or twelve hundred. It has about 20 stores, and some of them like Mr. P. Olmsted’s dry goods store, are spacious and well-filled. There are four wagon shops in this place; five blacksmith shops; two cabinet shops; a harness shop; two steam saw mills; an excellent flouring mill, the property of W. F. & J. H. Young; and a brick Courthouse of fair dimensions, in the center of a beautiful yard 200 feet square, and decorated with maple, cotton-wood, locust, willow, hickory, cedar and cherry trees. A high fence, with turned posts and pickets, the best in this part of the country---surrounds the court yard---showing much taste on the part of somebody.
The Odd Fellows and Free Masons have each a hall, and the Baptists and New School Presbyterians have neat little brick churches. The Old School Presbyterians and United Brothers also have church edifices. The Methodists have a large congregation meeting at present in the Courthouse. There are one or two other religious societies in the place.
Vinton has two weekly newspapers---the Eagle and Democrat. We found Mr. Hanford of the former, and Mr. Fowler of the latter, busy at the case, setting the double part of publishers and compositors. They are both industrious and worthy men, and are deserving of liberal support from the “sovereigns” of the county.
Vinton has two hotels, Shield’s and the Fremont House. We have never found kinder people in a public house than Mr. and Mrs. Shields, who have the happy faculty of making their guests feel at home. They are considerate people; treating a stranger well, and charge him very moderately for entertaining him. When he goes away, he will have no objection to returning---sometime. We dined today at the Fremont House, in company with friends Drummond and Traer. Mr. Russel Jones, the proprietor of the house, is full of good cheer always, and, after dinner, of something else. He sets a good table, and being an early settler here, is known and popular all over the country. He kept a public house here when the country was so full of people---in the days of briskest speculation---that a man was willing to pay twenty-five cents for the privilege of standing outside of the inn all night, and listen at the key hole to the snoring within.
Our sumptuous dinner at the Fremont House was slightly marred by the indisposition of Mr. Drummond. Being “under the weather” he was able to eat nothing excepting two plates full of “chicken fixins,” two slices of roast beef, and pastry to match! He is better this evening.
One of the best bridges in the Cedar Valley crosses the river at Vinton. Who built it we know not, though, to borrow a pun from Theodore Hook if we should cross it, we might be tolled.
There is good water power here.---All that is needed is a race two mules long, which can easily be dug---and will be, sometime. Vinton is bound to rise, for the country is rich around it, and the trade and business of the county centers here. Two or three years hence, when the Cedar Valley Railroad spans Benton county, a livery stable for iron horses may be located here.
In this county are four flouring mills and sixteen saw mills. There are also sixteen post offices. Aside from the county seat, are several little villages. Marysville, the north-eastern township, has three hundred inhabitants and two churches. Benton City, six miles east of Vinton, on the Cedar, has at least two hundred inhabitants, and two steam saw mills, and two steam flouring mills. Shellsburg in Cedar Township, ten miles south-east of Vinton, has two hundred inhabitants. Geneva, in Big Grove, six miles south-west of the county seat has about one hundred and fifty. About twice its size is Irving, though a portion of it is in Tama county.
Most of these facts in regard to the villages in Benton county we obtain from Judge Douglas, late democratic candidate for Secretary of State. He is well posted in county matters, and highly communicative. All the county roads run on section lines alone, a plan originated by the Judge---though this fact we learn from another source; and the county is well supplied with roads, in building which Judge Douglas has been one of the prime movers.---He has been in this county about four years. Twenty years ago he was the editor of the Ohio State Journal, hence he is of whig antecedents. He also---also at a subsequent period, we believe---edited Cadiz (O.) Sentinel and also the Tuscarawas Advocate.---He is a veteran ex-member of the editorial fraternity. From the exalted position of a journalist, he has sunken to that of a County Judge! Alas! Alas!
The other officers of Benton county are, John W. Filkins, Treasurer and Recorder; James Chapin, Clerk of the District Court; Joseph Dysart, Superintendent of Public Instruction; James Jones, Coroner; E. Howard, Sheriff; Wesley Whipple, Surveyor. These officers are about equally divided between the Republican and Democrats. From Mr. Dysart, the popular and efficient Superintendent of the schools of the county we gather the following facts: There are twenty township school districts, and ninety-one sub-districts, and forty-one school-houses. A few are well planned and properly seated; the majority of them, however, afford but indifferent accommodations to pupils. Forty-one schools were taught last summer four months. Of the teachers, nine were males, employed at an average compensation of twenty-one dollars per month; thirty-two females, whose average pay amounted to thirteen dollars per month. About seventy-five per cent of the text books used were recommended by the Superintendent of Public Instruction. There are now fifty-five schools in operation. Between five and twenty-one years of age there are 3,098 persons---1,662 males, and 1,436 females. For the support of schools the County Judge levied $3,794.96---the townships boards $5,816.99---in all $9,611.95. For the erection and furnishing of schoolhouses there was levied the sum of $6,518.94; for incidental expenses, $988.65. Taxes for the support of schools were levied in all but four townships in the county. Ninety-five teachers certificates have been granted. The population generally manifest a deep interest in education.